- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- For the next six or seven months the Dallas Cowboys will be wondering about the plays that could have made the difference in finishing 8-8 for the third straight year or making the playoffs.
We're just wondering about five things in the end-of-season installment of Five Wonders:
Away we go:
I wonder if the Cowboys make quick decisions in regards to their coaching staff. The decision to fire Rob Ryan last year came 11 days after the season ended. With six teams looking for head coaches, the Cowboys would be wise to make any moves sooner rather than later. A lot of times the search for assistant coaches becomes a game of musical chairs. They often just switch golf shirts and gym shorts. You don't want to be the last team looking for assistant coaches with the top choices already scooped up. And as a mini-wonder inside a wonder, I wonder if Jason Garrett's future could make it hard for the most sought after assistants to say yes. Would they be willing to come to Dallas with a head coach that will be on the hot seat and possibly in the final year of his deal or go to a more stable job -- and one with less stature -- than the Cowboys?
I wonder if Jason Witten will end up with the same cruel fate as Tony Gonzalez. Witten will enter his 12th season with the Cowboys in 2014 and he is already the franchise leader in catches. He is second to Michael Irvin in receiving yards. Gonzalez is the only tight end in NFL history with more catches than Witten. By next season only Gonzalez will have more receiving yards as a tight end than Witten. Shannon Sharpe had 10,060 in his Hall of Fame career. Witten will enter 2014 with 9,799 yards. For all that Gonzalez accomplished he won only one playoff game in his career. That came last year with the Atlanta Falcons. He returned to the Falcons this year thinking he could go out on a Super Bowl run and they finished 4-12. For all that Witten has done, the Cowboys have won one playoff game. It has to be maddening for the eight-time Pro Bowler.
I wonder if the Cowboys wanted Tony Romo to have his back surgery sooner rather than later to make sure he is involved in the offseason program. Romo could not take part in the conditioning last year because of a procedure to remove a cyst from his back. If you remember, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Romo was “uniquely running mountains” in California the weeks before training camp to help his conditioning. It was among my favorite quotes of the season. He checked in at 236 pounds, the most he has ever weighed since joining the Cowboys. In 2012, Romo was listed at 230 pounds. In 2011, he was 227. The generally feeling is that Romo will need three months to recover from the back surgery. By having him ready for the conditioning program the Cowboys will be able to monitor Romo much better this spring and make sure he is in better shape when camp starts.
I wonder how much of an effect the new contract Robbie Gould signed with the Chicago Bears will impact any discussions the Cowboys have with their kicker, Dan Bailey. Gould signed a four-year deal with the Bears worth up to $15 million and included $9 million guaranteed. Bailey is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys would likely place the second-round tender on him, which will be a little more than $2.1 million. The first-round tender would be close to $3 million. Gould is 31 and has a Pro Bowl to his credit. He has made 86 percent of his kicks in his career. Bailey turns 26 next month and had a Pro Bowl-type season though was not picked. He has made 90.8 percent of his kicks in his first three seasons and has missed two kicks in each of the past two seasons. He has been clutch. He has improved on kickoffs. Jason Garrett said Bailey might be the best at his job than any player the Cowboys have. The Cowboys bought out the free agent year of safety Barry Church last year with an extension and should do that with Bailey.
At the midway point of the season the Cowboys really had no idea what to do with Kyle Wilber. Injury forced them to play him at strong-side linebacker and I wonder if they found what could be a long-term answer at the position. In training camp and early in the season he had a number of chances to lay claim to extra playing time with all of the injuries on the defensive line but he was passed by George Selvie, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown. Once he moved to linebacker, he performed well. He took the job with six games to go and could force Justin Durant out. If the Cowboys make a move on Durant it would save them $1.25 million in salary cap space in 2014. Wilber is set to make $570,000 next season. In a 4-3 scheme, the strong-side backer might be the least important position because of how much nickel defense is used. The nickel corner will play more snaps in a season than a strong-side linebacker with the way the game is played. Wilber performed well, was a good tackler, appeared to fit in well at the spot and was tough. Sometimes in personnel it's better to be lucky than good.